The earliest civilizations in the region were established around 3000 BC. From about 500 BC onward, the region was ruled by the Persians, followed by the Macedonians, Ptolemaic Egyptians and the Seleucid state in Syria. In the 1st century BC, the expanding Roman Republic absorbed the whole Eastern Mediterranean area and the region was united with most of Europe and North Africa in a single political and economic unit. This unity facilitated the spread of Christianity, and by the 5th century much of the Middle East was Christian.
Until the rise of Islam in the 7th century AD, there was little distinction between what is now Europe and what is now the Middle East. In 634 the followers of Muhammad set out from Medina, in the Arabian Peninsula, and occupied Palestine, Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt and Persia. The majority of the population in the conquered areas converted to Islam within two generations.
Modern history is dominated by many political and economic conflicts. Many Middle Eastern and North African Christians have been emigrating in large numbers from the area over the last 100 years. In 1900, local Christians represented about 20% of the population. Today that number is less than 5% across the region. Political uncertainty, war and societal pressure have caused many local Christians to emigrate to the West from their home nations. Many Christians desire to raise their children in a pressure free environment. For those who remain, satellite television is one of the best means to help isolated Christian families by providing them with daily encouragement and support.